On Sunday we tested our game in Ongata Rongai’s local church after Sunday service. Sunday school plays an important role in the Kenyan school system, because the church frequently organizes activity for the local children, educates them, gives free food and looks after them for several hours. Parents generally appreciate Sunday schools, since they can be freed for their daily routines and they have less mouths to feed at home. Sunday school also offers sort of secure education, especially on this particular Sunday, when public schools had been closed for many weeks due to teacher strike.The strike is over when writing this blog, but new teacher strikes are likely to happen every year.
Sunday schools have a great variety of children. Our test group had 40 students between 8 to 13 years of age. Those who go to free public schools share the class with more than 40 students, whereas the ones who go to private schools have less than 40 classmates and therefore have higher chances to actually learn something. We noticed quite quickly that there is a huge gap between children’s English kills: some of them could barely speak English and some were fluent speakers.Also some of the students from public schools had difficulties in reading and writing. These particular aspects made our testing challenging and we needed to use our body language and ask other children and teachers to translate our ideas. Also the whole teaching approach, using role-playing, was new for the children and it took time to convey what we really wanted. As the children understood the idea they wanted to keep on playing.
We noticed that they were using props, like stethoscopes more than in other schools and they were willing to help each other. After the game even the children with low English skills remembered diseases and symptoms, and we understood that systemic role-playing like our concept could be easily used for teaching languages.Sunday school teachers were happy to see shy students being more active than usually and taking part in the game. They also commented that our game makes students think what they are learning and the method is more student centered than the current way of teaching. Obstacles for teaching this kind of game is lack of time, facilities and materials. Also, the number of students in a class is often too large. Since the feedback was quite similar with other schools we started to consider that this kind of learning game could be used outside of schools e.g. in youth clubs.
The air was filled with magic as we headed for the UN headquarters. The houses on the sides of the road kept getting bigger and the oncoming cars more expensive as we approached the destination. We had some time to spare before entering, so we went for a coffee in a mall next to the headquarters. It turned out to be like a little oasis of Europe inside Kenya with an Apple store, movie theaters, fashion boutiques and pale people in designer clothes drinking lattes.
The process of entering the building was similar to the experience of taking a flight from an airport. The premises were grand and luxurious. In fact, in the clean, cool environment, among expensive suits, it was easy to forget that we were still in the same country. Finally we made it to the first meeting with UNEP. We met two diplomats that didn’t really see relevance between their work and ours, but were still kind enough to tell us about the complex policies, like the three pillars doctrine, that were being generated in all those offices.
Next we had a lunch meeting with a couple of UN Habitat representatives. The two Europeans’ work had to do with education, and UN habitat had had previous collaboration with Aalto University, so our expectations for this meeting were higher than for the first one. It turned out that despite of the seeming detachment from the world outside, the UN Habitat people could provide insights about real life problems, which according to them, were more complex than we might imagine. Fortunately, they kindly enlightened us about the harsh reality in Kenya and the different pillars and other policies they were presently implementing. In the end, they guided us to critically assess our expertise in the field of medicine, as apparently it is precisely these type of misconceptions that result in doctors that might make the wrong diagnosis(which, of course, was a misconception, as we never imagined ourselves as the content providers for our platform). We agreed to keep in contact, in case we need content or contacts in the future.
Finally we proceeded to a guided tour around the premises. The rooms were elegant, cool and spacy. Certainly an office to be proud of. There was even a more sustainable, well advertised building, that produced part of the consumed energy with sun panels. Outside, the tranquility was even more striking. There were large, well maintained gardens featuring a VIP tree-planting area, a peace pole and pieces of art. The only thing moving, besides us, was a robotic mower.
Meeting with Red Cross Kenya
Today we met members from the Organizational Development Department of Red Cross Kenya. We introduced all three concepts: treasure hunt, quiz game and the educational role-play. They also saw the video explaining the role-play concept which we had developed for the final presentation. We also showed them video from our testing at the previous Kenyan school. All the members of Red cross saw different potential in using the role-play concept in their work. One use could be in using the game as an entry point in introducing Red cross clubs in schools. There are Red cross clubs for students in some schools and they want them to spread to schools throughout Kenya. Another use suggested by one member is to use it as a tool in evaluation of projects. Often interpreters are used to conduct interviews with kids which might modify the meaning. Role-play can be an effective way which might convey the information in a better way. In the end, they were optimistic about the whole concept and we decided to be in contact about further progress.
Testing at the second school
The later part of the day was spent on the next testing session. This school was also a private school and bigger than the previous one. Initially, we thought around 20 students would be involved in the testing. However, the school had different plans and around 100 students participated. The students were in the age range 10-11. So we decided only around 20 students would be participating in the game and the rest would act as audience. But in the subsequent rounds, other students would join and the old students will leave. From our previous experience, we had learned our lessons and modified the way we explained the game. The previous method took a long time for the game to get going. This method was a success and the game flow started quite quickly. We had asked two teachers to be game masters. The students were enthusiastic and enjoyed the game a lot. They were very eager to play different roles. Some of them were not even ready to leave their roles! We saw collaboration between the students when new students were trying to adapt to their roles. When the game ended, they looked sad, but their face brightened when the teacher suggested they will play the game again sometime. We interviewed the students later, and we observed that students who repetitively played some role would understand about certain disease better.
The teachers were asked to be observers and give their opinion about the project. The teachers considered the approach to be interesting and think that it would be useful in teaching in classrooms, but feel that the game went too long and might be difficult in including in their usual schedule. One teacher wanted to use the game in their Scout group and also wanted a copy of the game.
Overall, the testing was a success. Our experience with the previous school helped us to fix many challenges we faced and make this session a better one.
The school was a small complex of simple, metal sheet buildings, named after a saint. When we entered the school yard, the young students running around in red uniforms, greeted us by smiling and giving us high fives. We went on to explain our experiment in a meeting with the teachers. They listened politely and were kind enough to help us with the arrangements. The starting was a little bit confusing, as we hadn’t figured out the best way of making the game understood. There were some challenges that we weren’t prepared for, like the language barrier(the students spoke good English, but our accents were hard for them to understand) and the learning culture(the students were expected to repeat things after the teachers, without actually having to understand what they were saying). We got the game flowing after a slow start, with the teachers cooperating in explaining the different roles. In the beginning, the students were shy and clearly not very comfortable with acting in a classroom environment, but they kept getting more into their roles. The game flow seemed to work as it was supposed to. The receptionist was escorting the patients to the doctors, who were writing prescriptions that were handed to the pharmacists for the treatment. It became apparent, however, that there was something that we hadn’t managed to address. We noticed that the teachers were too concerned with our impression of the students’ performance, to the degree that they went to replace children when they were not confident of them. This, of course, was not our intention, as we were aware that the game was far from finalized, and wanted to identify the problem areas in order to develop the game. Another major challenge was that the students didn’t really comprehend the idea of applying information and often told the name of the disease to the doctor instead of making him guess it. The main thing, however, was that the students were really enjoying the role play. They would have liked to keep on playing. For the first test in Kenya it wasn’t bad at all. At least, now we understand the challenges.
In the end, in a feedback session with the teachers, we were told that the game is actually something that they would like to implement as a teaching method, provided it is made easier and quicker to start. Ironically enough, we have to think of ways of making the purpose of the game understood, in order for us to achieve our primary goal of enhancing understanding in learning.
We are back!
Only couple of weeks ago, we received funding for our trip, and here we are blogging from Kenya. From our homes in Finland to Anne Kagiri’s place in Kenya, it took us around 17 hours. This morning we woke up when the rooster was crowing – we really are in Kenya!
This week we are going to test our concept at schools, visit UN-HABITAT, UNEP, meet people from Kenyan Red Cross and get to know Nairobi. Unfortunately the public schools are closed because of a teacher strike. So our testing will be done only in private schools. But also, we will be testing at a Sunday school in a church, where most of the kids are from public schools.
We heard from Anne that one does not leave Kenya without visiting a safari, and that is what we will be doing on next week. Stay tuned for photos…
On May 7th, we had our final presentation. It went well. We explained some background about the project, our design process and also the concepts. We showed a video explaining the hospital role-playing concept. Also, we played the role-playing game with two volunteers acting as patients. Saara was the doctor, Jarkko, the pharmacist and I acted as the receptionist and game master. The audience appreciated our project in general and also had some nice comments about our presentation.
You can view the slides below.
The Finnish Red Cross were involved in the testing and have expressed interest in developing the game for Finnish school children.